Two-time World Champion and two-time Belgian National Champion Bart Wellens and his Telenet-Fidea teammate Rob Peeters came to the United States to open their cross season. The goal was multi-fold, to gain early season fitness, capture UCI points and to check out the racing before the 2013 World Championships to be held in Louisville, KY.
The goals were achieved but they also learned about the reality of UCI racing in North America.
“I already know it before today that they go fast, Trebon and Powers and today I felt it again, they are fast. “ Wellens said after finishing second behind winner Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt) on Saturday’s USGP Planet Bike Cup in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) finished third on the day.
Wellens added, “The level here, for me almost even higher than Europe, but in Belgium, we are in the campers staying easy, here it’s a little bit different and it’s not so easy to save energy. Right now we are four races, after two weeks, and I’m so tired from all the flying so respect for the US guys.”
As the weather turned on Sunday with torrential downpour, Wellens could not take shelter in his camper as he would of at home. Every top star travels to the race in their camper, or huge bus if you are Sven Nys, all warm and cozy. In the US, teammates on a top team share an equipment van and can shelter under a closed tent – with a heater if they’re lucky.
And then there’s the travel. The tough reality for the top level North American cross racers is that their schedule includes many hours in a plane and across multiple timezones if they want to race the highest-level UCI races, the C1 races. That means spending hours cooped up on a plane on Thursday or Friday to get to a race, and then on Monday to return home.
The ten C1 US races in the 2011 four-month season will be held in ten cities across eight states: Las Vegas, NV, Sun Prairie, WI, Gloucester, MA, Providence, RI, Fort Collins, CO, Boulder, CO, Fairfield, OH, Louisville, KY, Iowa City, IA and Bend, OR. That’s a lot of flying.
Contrast that to what Wellens faces during his season. From his home in Vorselaar, Belgium, the 33 year-old is able to not only drive to all the races in the GVA Trofee and Superprestige Series but also five out of the eight World Cups. The longest distance for Wellens, at 300 km, will be to the Superprestige in Diegem and the average distance to the 14 C1s and 2 C2s in both series is 84 km. The three World Cups not in Benelux, are in the same timezone making it easier to adjust. (See table for distances)
The US trip for Wellens, Peeters along with a team manager and mechanic started in Las Vegas, NV, then Seattle, WA, followed by a quick stop in Louisville, KY and then ended in Madison, WI.
They also saw first hand the generosity that is often seen at cross races. Traveling light, the Belgians had not brought any mud tires which was a problem on Sunday but Saturday’s Masters 35+ winner Bill Ellison (Van Dessell) took care of them. After serving as their guide during their stay in Madison, Elliston loaned them his Revolution Works wheels complete with Challenge Limus tire for the race.
Throughout it all, Belgian media followed along. Sporza’s Renaat Schotte was there in Vegas, and a report will be shown on October 16. And a show on VT4 will be televised on October 2 before the Kalmthout C1 race.
“I hope that they also come here but probably they read everything in the newspaper.” Wellens replied when asked what he would tell his fellow Belgian cyclocross racers about racing in the USA. “I hope they come also over here.”
“Maybe it’s not good for you,” he added with a smile gesturing to Jonathan Page (Planet Bike/Blue) second, and Trebon, third, on Sunday, “but it’s good for cyclocross in total, I’m sure and for myself, I hope I can come back next year and we can have a rematch.”
With a tired smile after soloing to victory in the muddy race on Sunday, Wellens concluded. “It was lots of running, technical parts, it was a nice track but I’m tired now, time to go home.”